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George Vlahakis
University Communications

Last modified: Monday, October 17, 2011

IU Bloomington's African Studies Program celebrating its 50th anniversary this weekend

Oct. 17, 2011

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- The African Studies Program at Indiana University Bloomington is celebrating its 50th anniversary this Thursday through Saturday (Oct. 20-22) with a series of events, which will include a photography exhibit, lectures and music.

African Lens

Jacob Otieno/The Standard © 2008

Anti riot police confront a suspected Mungiki sect member in the sprawling Dandora slums of Nairobi, Kenya, on April 4, 2008. The image is part of an exhibit by African photographers that is part of the 50th anniversary celebration.

Print-Quality Photo

Interest in Africa dates back decades, particularly back to 1948, when Professor George Herzog initiated a series of courses in African linguistics, folklore, music and ethnology. The African Studies Program in IU Bloomington's College of Arts and Sciences was formally established in 1961 after the Ford Foundation awarded a five-year development grant to an ad hoc committee led by renowned Liberia scholar Professor J. Gus Liebenow.

Liebenow, a political scientist, became the first director of the program. Complemented by university resources and, starting in 1965, federal funding, this seed money helped to develop a regional emphasis on West Africa with concentrations in the humanities, development issues, history and languages and linguistics.

Cooperation with African institutions and the dissemination of knowledge about Africa beyond IU quickly became integral aspects of the program. Within a decade, IU African Studies grew in scope and depth to become one of the top five such programs in the country.

"We see ourselves as fulfilling the mission that we set out to do 50 years ago -- to educate people in the U.S. about the continent of Africa, its role in world civilization and its place in the global polity and economy," said Samuel Obeng, director of African Studies. "We've brought Africa to America, and Americans know more about Africa because of our program."

"As an African, I'm proud of the fact that the program has, to a very great extent, dispelled some of the myths about Africa," said Obeng, who was born in Ghana. "Through our outreach activities, library and museum collections, the teaching of African politics, health-related concepts, languages, linguistics and cultures, as well as initiating various study-abroad programs, we've enlightened people about the fact that Africa is multi-racial, multi-ethnic, economically vibrant, politically lively but complex, geographically expansive and has a third of the world's languages, for example."

The program's outreach has included considerable efforts to preserve and digitize official documents from many African nations as well as hard-to-find archival materials and field recordings. Among the languages taught are Bambara/Bamana, Kiswahili, Akan/Twi, Wolof and Zulu. It also offers Kiswahili as an intensive summer course.

"We celebrate area studies programs like African Studies, which are even more important to IU and the nation than they were a half-century ago," said David Zaret, IU vice president for international affairs. "Effective cooperation with African institutions require the communications skills and cultural understanding promoted by our African Studies Program."

Several special events have been planned to celebrate the program's 50th anniversary:

  • An opening reception for the exhibition "African Lens: Photojournalism of Africa by Africans," at the Ivy Tech-John Waldron Arts Center, 122 S. Walnut St., beginning at 5 p.m. on Thursday (Oct. 20). Eileen Julien, IU professor of comparative literature; and James Kelly, IU associate professor of journalism, organized the exhibit. Karen Hanson, IU provost and executive vice president, and Obeng will offer remarks. Featured photographers Djibril Sy and Jacob Otieno will present short talks, followed by a reception at the Uptown Cafe.
  • Two lectures by distinguished alumni will take place Friday (Oct. 21) in room 251 of the Radio-Television Building, 1229 E. Seventh St. After a welcome and introductions by Obeng at 4 p.m., Mary Jo Arnoldi, chair of the Department of Anthropology at the National Museum of Natural History at the Smithsonian Institution, will speak on the topic "From Timbuktu to the National Mall: Performing the Malian Nation on an International Stage." Arnoldi earned her doctorate in art history from IU.
  • Manthia Diawara, professor of comparative literature and Africana studies at New York University, will speak on the topic "African Cultural Studies between Film and Literature," at 6 p.m. Friday in room 251 of the Radio-Television Building. She earned her doctorate in comparative literature from IU. Diawara's talk will be preceded by a coffee break and demonstration of the African Studies Program website created by Marion Frank-Wilson, librarian for African Studies, and students in the atrium of the IU Art Museum.
  • A reception from 7 to 9 p.m. Friday at the IU Art Museum, featuring music by Afro Hoosier International.
  • Two panel discussions and a closing reception Saturday (Oct. 22). Beginning at 1:30 p.m. in the State Room West of the Indiana Memorial Union, 900 E. Seventh St., a panel discussion will look back at "50 Years of African Studies at IU." Panelists will include former African Studies Program directors Patrick O'Meara, Brian Winchester and John Hanson and the current director, Obeng. Patrick McNaughton, Chancellor's Professor and chair of the Department of History of Art, will moderate. A second panel, "African Studies: Meanings and Futures," will feature graduate students in African Studies and begin at 3 p.m. Kwesi Brown, an Ghanaian drummer will perform between the panel discussions and at a reception to follow.

All programs are free and open to the public. For the complete schedule of events, visit the African Studies Program website at